|Photo courtesy of Obankston/Wikimedia Commons|
Summer is fully in swing and interns across the country (and the world) are on their merry ways scurrying about reporting, producing and searching for story ideas worthy of a pitch.
This week marks my third as an intern at Minnesota Public Radio. It's unfathomable how fast time has flown by, but I've stopped to take a pulse of my experiences so far.
In my still-green state, I think I'm able to offer a few pieces of advice that I think every journalism intern (or any intern in the history of humankind) may benefit from.
Along with the assignments and projects that you've been given, always be thinking of ways that you can further contribute to your newsroom. You mostly likely weren't hired for your ability to do what you are told and operate as an automaton.
Ask to come with reporters going out into the field. Offer to help reporters shift through documents. Make pitches when you aren't expected to at budget meetings. And considering the fact that you are a Millennial (yes, you) and therefore probably fall into the "digital native" category, you may be able to contribute to the social media and digital teams.
Showing an initiative to work beyond expectations and jump on new tasks not only conveys self-motivation, but also a versatility that is becoming increasingly vital to newsrooms that are meeting the new media frontier.
Ask, ask, ask:
On the white board in the office that I share with two of the other interns, between the daily schedule and list of mentors' names and phone numbers, there is a very special section. This area is reserved for questions. Our questions have ranged from basic—like how to log into the editing suite—to more advanced—like asking our editors about their paths into radio.
Ask away, my friends, as you are in the company of reporters and editors who most likely have a diversity of experience ranging from a couple years out of school to a few decades of hard-earned journalistic chops.
Sometimes it's better that you figure out the answer yourself before asking others. But in times of complete befuddlement, don't be shy about not knowing that obscure in-house term or how to file stories remotely. Just don't ask about when you get to go home.
Resist the constraints of the beat (or show, or team, or department):
Your cubicle, desk, office, Fishbowl (the name the two other interns that I share an office with have so affectionately given to our glass-enclosed space) is not a holding pen that unlocks only when you need to go out on assignment, talk to your producer or hunt for free food in the newsroom kitchen. The same goes for the non-physical area of a beat or team that you may occupy as a basecamp during your internship.
While you have been assigned to work on the health beat or the 11 a.m. current issues call-in show for a reason, you are stifling your learning if you relegate yourself to just those areas. Meet others in the newsroom and get an idea of the kinds of work that they are doing. Get coffee with the statehouse reporters and chat local concerts with the arts reporters. Talk to the digital editor about seeing the analytics data behind your stories or ask the technical director about learning the studio board.
If you ask nicely and respect them when they are busy, journalists will likely be glad to talk and impart some wisdom you will otherwise miss if you don't make an effort to seek them out.
I mean—you sort of have to be comfortable with reaching out to and talking to them if this is the profession for you.
Seize your environment:
For some, it may be easier if you are interning at an organization close to home or school. The familiarity with your environment can be an asset when it comes to coming up with story ideas or gauging the issues that matter to your audience. If you have sources that you have built up from past work or knowledge about community institutions, use them to your advantage to craft pitches and show informed perspective.
Being from out of state, I'm still trying to get my bearings on all things Minnesotan. If you are in the same position as I, have no fear though: Us out-of-area interns have the advantage of being able to look at an area and a culture with fresh eyes. Your lack of extended familiarity means that you have more the reason to consume as much local and regional media as you can fit into your noggin. Spend some time sifting through your org's archives and researching past coverage of topics that interest you (hint hint: story ideas most likely will result).
Outside of the newsroom, make sure that you go and LIVE in the community you are covering and get to meet the audiences your organization is serving. What do I mean by this? Go to events like festivals and concerts and gallery shows and sports games and farmers markets and performances. Meet your neighbors. Try new restaurants and frequent parks and coffee shops.
Immersing yourself in the day-to-day of the community outside of the newsroom will help you perform in your job and have fun in your down time.
Don't act like an intern:
Yep, I said it. While you may feel like a youngin' surrounded by masters of the craft, the work you are doing matters for you and your organization. Your resume, portfolio, recommendations and interview secured you the position you're in right now. You have went through what is most likely the same process that normal employees endure on the way in. You at the very least probably have a desk, a phone and a company email. So treat everything that you do and learn like it's real and meaningful, because it is and deserves to be viewed as such.
Clinging to the safety of the "intern card" is not going to bring you fulfilling work experiences or let you gain the maturity that can come from doing things that are challenging and unfamiliar. Speak up in meetings, make work for yourself behind the three dayturns and one weekly feature you've been assigned, and find mentors in the organization.
An internship is meant to immerse you in the day-to-day of a media outlet, preparing you for an eventual career when you graduate. Approach this summer's gig like that career already begun.
(Also, remember to have pens, headphones and a charged phone on you at all times.)